Mac’s Message #51: Dealing With Unruly Boys (Part 3)

by | Sep 8, 2015

Mac McIntire

Mac McIntire


In my final message about dealing with unruly boys in your Scouting program I would like to provide some practical advice and techniques you can use to help improve the behavior of disruptive young men.

I believe the best foundation for maintaining harmony in a Scouting unit is to have a consistent structure to your meetings and activities. Boys tend to behave better when they know your meetings will always start and end on time and will follow an established meeting routine—such as a flag ceremony, prayer, reciting of the Scout Oath and Law, announcements, unit business, a learning experience with a reflection afterward, and a fun closing activity.

I also encourage you to have clear, consistent, and simple behavioral expectations for your young men. Specific expectations get specific results. Boys want to know what is expected of them; and they want to know that those expectations are firm and unalterable. When rules are unclear, or worse yet, irresolute, boys get confused. Confusion often results in dysfunctional behavior. Consistency is critical to maintaining control with young men. Usually if a boy knows the rules, and is sure they cannot be broken or altered, he will abide by them willingly without challenge.

I’ve found a good way to set expectations is to have the boys create agreed-upon behavioral ground rules for your meetings and activities. These ground rules can be posted in your meeting room so the young men are constantly reminded of how to act.

No doubt the best behavioral expectations for Scouting-age boys can be found in the Scout Law. If you have engrained the Scout Law into the mind of a boy through weekly recitation, it should be easy to counsel him regarding his disruptive behavior by reminding him of these Scouting standards. For example, if a boy is too noisy late at night on a campout, you can remind him to be Courteous. If a young man argues with other boys or backbites, gossips or bullies others, you can prompt him to be Loyal and Kind. If a boy fails to follow your Scouting unit rules, you can remind him to be Trustworthy and Obedient. I cannot think of any possible offenses a boy might commit that cannot be tied back to one or more of the values in the Scout Law.

When I have served as the Scoutmaster I make sure I’m the only one who handles serious discipline problems. I don’t delegate this responsibility to any of my assistant adult leaders or youth leaders. This ensures consistency in the way boys with severe behavioral problems are handled. It also keeps the other leaders from having to be the “bad cop.” I’ve found most serious problems can be addressed through a calm, quiet, private, one-on-one discussion with the young man. If that boy knows he is loved and appreciated, he typically responds well to corrective counsel. I’ve found a pat on the back is more effective than a harsh rebuke.

However, there may be times when you need to take more drastic measures to modify a boy’s behavior. When I was a Scoutmaster the first time I had several boys who were hyperactive and on medication. Some of the boys were very hard to control. For serious infractions I implemented the card system that is used in soccer. For the first serious violation I would figuratively “blow the whistle” and warn the boy. This was the boy’s “courtesy warning.” If the same serious off-purpose behavior continued, I would “yellow card” him. The boy could get two yellow cards before I “red-carded” him if the disruptive behavior continued. A red card meant the boy was suspended from the unit for 30 days. He could not attend any meetings or activities during those 30 days. At the end of the 30 days the boy and his parent(s) would have to appear before the troop committee and Scoutmasters to petition for reinstatement. He would have to show that he had learned from the experience and would not commit the infraction again. Since we had a quality Scouting program, being banned from the unit for 30 days was a significant penalty for the boys.

This process always worked. Several boys received yellow cards, but I only red-carded one boy the entire time I was the Scoutmaster. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I had twelve non-LDS boys in the troop. Surprisingly, an LDS boy was the only one I red-carded. His father was one of my assistant Scoutmasters. The mother was the troop committee chair. I went to the father and mother to get their support before I red-carded their son. They handled the situation perfectly and kept their son home from Scouting for 30 days. At the end of the 30 days the boy and his parents petitioned for reinstatement. It was a wonderful experience. The boy’s behavior improved dramatically. He earned his Eagle. He later went on a mission to Peru. He married in the temple and now has two kids. He is a great husband, father, and Melchizedek priesthood leader. This is exactly what the LDS Scouting program is all about.

I encourage you to get to know your boys. I urge you to pray for guidance on how to deal with any boys who may cause you problems. I know the Lord will guide you. The Lord knows there are times when you may need to reprove a young man “betimes with sharpness.” But I hope it will be because you were “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” rather than merely reacting in anger or frustration. I know the most important thing you can do when correcting a young man is to show “an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” (D&C 121:43).

Our Father in Heaven loves his precious young men. Because of that, He has called you to be a leader over His children. In doing so He encourages you to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).


Take a Moment to Reflect

  • Have you implemented a consistent structure for your Scouting meetings and activities?
  • Have you established clear ground rules or behavioral expectations with the input and consensus of your young men?
  • Do you use the Scout Oath and Law as you counsel your boys regarding their behavior?
  • What behavioral modification techniques do you use with your boys? Do they work? If not, what else could you do to get the outcome you want?


Turn Your Reflection Into Action

  • What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?


“Our youth don’t want to drift; they want security and a solid anchor, limits, rules to live by—with an opportunity to achieve. They want to know what is expected of them—they earnestly want direction” (Elder Robert L. Backman, “What the Lord Requires of Fathers,” Ensign, Sept. 1981).


-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author